The Chicago Blackhawks have several players to make decisions about following the 2013 season. One of those players is a guy who was lucky to see his name in the lineup a year ago. Bryan Bickell has been a player of real value for the 'Hawks.
Has he figured out his place in the NHL in his third full season?
Bickell, who turns 27 next Saturday, has been a key member of a third line who has provided a spark to several of Chicago's 18 wins. Along with Viktor Stalberg and Andrew Shaw, this group has combined for 14 goals and 28 points.
This patchwork teaming is not a traditional checking line. In reality, it's more of an energy line with a bit more offensive punch. However you categorize it, it's working. It's also helping the Blackhawks rack up the points.
Stalberg's speed and Shaw's tenacity are augmented by Bickell's willingness to take it to the opposition in a physical sense. Bickell leads Chicago with 48 hits and fed Shaw for goals twice in the past week. His behind-the-net, no-look pass to Shaw resulted in the winning score last Sunday in a 1-0 victory over the Blue Jackets.
Friday night against Columbus, he got one for himself.
Anticipating a pass along the blue line, Bickell picked off Fedor Tyutin and streaked down the left side. Snapping a shot past Steve Mason, Bickell broke what was a 2-2 game late in the second period with his third goal on the campaign. Bickell was rewarded for his efforts in his selection as the game's first star.
After seeing some action in Chicago's Stanley Cup run back in 2009-10, Bickell signed a three-year deal that has him earning just above the league minimum. At $600,000 in the last year of the contract, Bickell will become an unrestricted free agent if he isn't signed by this summer.
GM Stan Bowman will have some choices to make after the season. Bickell can probably be had for a price that agrees with Chicago's salary cap. If Bickell has matured into a skater who can utilize his 6'4", 235-pound frame night in and night out, he certainly is worth keeping around even at double his current price tag.